Global Health Diplomacy at the World Health Assembly

Our humanitarian values inspire us to intervene and prevent diseases such as Malaria, HIV-AIDS, Tuberculosis, Ebola, and Zika. Yet, the average U.S. citizen may not realize how the nuts and bolts of health diplomacy affect them personally. Aside from saving lives, better global health has a wealth of benefits for local communities as well as the entire international community. Healthy people can contribute more to the well-being of their countries, building a more prosperous, stable world. 

Each year in May, the United States participates in the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, along with delegations from virtually every country in the world. The WHA is the world’s highest health policy setting body.   

Though specific health challenges differ from country to country, all countries have health issues in common. Research and treatment of what ails us is and has to be a global effort. We remain eager to collaborate and learn from others. Cooperation with countries at the World Health Assembly helps us achieve a more secure, democratic, and thriving world. The United States is safer when our world is stable and healthy, and global health fuels greater global prosperity.    

I am pleased to join colleagues from the Departments of State, Health and Human Services (HHS), and other agencies as part of the U.S. delegation, a team with robust health policy credentials and technical expertise. Together with other nations, we’ll address a range of public health issues facing the world’s people:

  • Meeting the needs of mothers and children;
  • Ensuring that all people have access to basic health services;
  • Protecting against the threats posed by infectious disease, including coordinated prevention and response measures to emergencies like Ebola and Zika; and
  • Safeguarding antibiotics to remain effective against bacteria.

Infectious disease threats, as we are seeing now with Zika, threaten the United States and its population if they cannot be stopped overseas. The United States is working to help countries build their capacity to provide their citizens with decent health care; and to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks before global epidemics occur.   

The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), which was launched in 2014, invites countries to join a collaborative partnership to build capacity to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats. The United States also supports International Health Regulations, which are the longstanding guidelines for countries to report details of local health emergencies. Both GHSA and International Health Regulations function as essential tools for better and faster global responses to public health emergencies. Since it’s hard to fix what hasn’t been measured, we are working with our GHSA partners, the WHO, and other stakeholders to better gauge how well countries are meeting the requirements of International Health Regulations through a new external assessment system. This voluntary assessment process will ensure an objective approach, building capacity and making the world more safe and secure from infectious disease threats.

At the World Health Assembly, we have the opportunity to reflect on and discuss solutions to the emerging diseases of the day as well as medium-to long-term threats to global health and health security. I hope you will take this time to contemplate the ways in which global health impacts your life and how you can help raise awareness about these important issues. 

About the author: Judith Garber is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).

For more information:

  • Visit ghsagenda.org to learn more about the Global Health Security Agenda.
  • Follow the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs @StateDeptOES and on Facebook.
  • Follow the Office of Global Health Diplomacy @GHDatState and on Facebook
  • Read other DipNote blogs by Assistant Secretary Garber.
A general view of the assembly during the opening day of the World Health Organization (WHO) annual assembly at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
Posted by Judith Garber
May 24, 2016

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